Your brain has a very important job – it allows you to experience and interpret your surroundings through your 5 senses, to problem solve and create, to connect with those around you through language and emotion, and to remember events and facts. However, as we age and through life circumstance, our brains can begin to lose sharpness and abilities, and we experience forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, emotional disregulation, and even dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. Thankfully, there are habits you can adopt to keep your brain healthy across the lifespan. Keep reading to learn more about brain health and how to keep your brain strong!
Throughout your life, your brain’s job is to help you make sense of the world and help oversee your daily operations and life. Brain health refers to the ability to remember, learn, play, concentrate and maintain a clear, active mind. It’s being able to draw on the strengths of your brain—information management, logic, judgement, perspective and wisdom. Simply, brain health is all about making the most of your brain and helping reduce some risks to it as you age.
As we age, some of our brain functioning can begin to deteriorate as a result of lifestyle and genetics, however, this is not necessarily inevitable. Thanks to science, we know about a process is called “brain plasticity” – that as we experience the world, practice habits and learn new information, our brains change, grow new connections and repair broken ones. As we age, our experiences and knowledge can keep our brains working, developing and learning. So how can you keep your brain in tip-top shape?
1. Get moving!
Research shows that using your muscles also helps your mind. Regular exercise increases the number of tiny blood vessels that bring oxygen-rich blood to the region of the brain that is responsible for thought. Exercise also spurs the development of new nerve cells and increases the connections between brain cells (synapses). This results in brains that are more efficient, plastic, and adaptive, which translates into better performance. Exercise also lowers blood pressure, improves cholesterol levels, helps blood sugar balance and reduces mental stress, all of which can help your brain as well as your heart.
2. Prioritize healthy sleep
Sleep is when your brain gets a chance to repair and restore itself. Although exactly how sleep works is still a mystery, research has clearly linked good sleep with good brain health. Many scientists believe that as you sleep, your brain flushes out plaques (the brain’s waste material created as you use your brain during the day) – over time, the build up of plaques is one of the causes of the decline in mental functioning. So get those zzz’s!
3. Get mental stimulation
Through research with mice and humans, scientists have found that brainy activities stimulate new connections between nerve cells and may even help the brain generate new cells, developing neurological “plasticity” and building up new connections that provide a hedge against future cell loss. Any mentally stimulating activity should help to build up your brain. Read, take courses, or try “mental gymnastics” such as word puzzles or math problems!
4. Try crafting
Crafting regularly could reduce your chances of developing mild cognitive impairment by 30% to 50%, according to a 2011 study published in The Journal of Neuropsychiatry. The research has shown that crafting and coloring engage and strengthen the parts of your brain involved in memory, attention span, visuospatial processing, and creative decision making and problem-solving.
5. Improve your diet
Good nutrition can help your mind as well as your body. For example, people that eat a Mediterranean style diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, unsaturated oils (olive oil) and plant sources of proteins are less likely to develop cognitive impairment and dementia. Also, making dietary changes that improve your blood sugar and cholesterol levels are linked to improved cognitive health.